Modern Managers Become Too Busy to Focus on Their Jobs

March 7, 2017

LisaNottinghamIn recent years, many companies have sought to create work environments that place a heavy emphasis on collaboration. With flattened hierarchies and open door policies, these workplaces give employees easy access to managers and other top performers. The system is meant to improve office efficiency by allowing staffers to receive unique advice that makes their jobs easier.

But while regular employees can have their workloads lightened, managers quickly become overwhelmed by overly collaborative workplaces. After all, executives who spend much of their time meeting with staffers have less time to do focused work themselves. In fact, a recent study found that managers and knowledge workers now spend 90 to 95 percent of their working hours in meetings, on the phone, or responding to email. For some perspective, managers spent just 60 percent of their time on those tasks a decade ago.

Back then, “people just kind of did their tasks in front of them. Work was much more about what I did to accomplish something,” said Brian Kropp from the advisory firm CEB. “Now it’s much more about ‘who did I work with so we could accomplish things together?’” As a result, collaborative managers who are meant to improve efficiency can actually become bottlenecks towards progress. One executive claimed that even when he’s not in a meeting he likely has as many as seven staffers lined in front of his office waiting to talk. Not only does this waste employees’ time, but it also prevents managers from accomplishing their day-to-day tasks. As many as 40 percent of executives suffer from this “collaborative overload,” leading many companies to rethink some details about their open office environments.



  1. What can companies do to reduce “collaborative overload” for managers?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of uncollaborative offices where employees do most of their work individually?

Source: Rachel Feintzeig, “So Busy at Work, No Time to Do the Job,” The Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2016. Photo by Lisa Nottingham.